Remember the ‘Batang Tundo’
The tribute last Nov. 30 of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation to 19 heroes who fought the Marcos dictatorship did not include the “Batang Tundo” activist-heroes who were part of the early propaganda movement before the Battle of Mendiola that developed into the First Quarter Storm in January-March 1970, which long antedated the Edsa People Power Revolution in 1986. They were always at the forefront of demonstrations (rallies/mobilizations) at the US Embassy, Lyceum of the Philippines, University of the Philippines in Diliman, Plaza Miranda, University Belt, the old Congress, the workers’ strikes at US Tobacco, Goya factory, and other places.
Antonio “Tony” Robles, son of a Manila police colonel, organized a Kabataang Makabayan chapter in Balut, Tundo (the original spelling of Tondo), and the “Pagpapatuloy ng Rebolusyong 1896 Anak-Dalita” whose members were from the urban poor. Hardworking and persevering, he impressed the youth with his knowledge of history and peoples’ struggles for liberation in other countries. Even middle-class families respected him.
Tony or “Nyoto” was one of the “most wanted activists” during martial law, who included Jose Ma. Sison, Bernabe Buscayno, Ma. Lorena Barros, Victor Corpuz, and Raquel Edralin. Their names and pictures were splashed on posters in military camps and government offices. In the national democratic underground movement, as “Justo Guerra,” he never claimed credit for his good performance in recruiting many youths for KM.
When the Argentine Che Guevara joined the Cuban revolution of Fidel Castro, and despite misgivings about his “importation” of the revolution to Bolivia where it failed, Che became a byword among the Batang Tundo and was next only to Tundo proletarian hero Andres Bonifacio and Amado Guerrero, author of “Philippine Society and Revolution” and founder of the reestablished Communist Party of the Philippines. The battle cry of KM-Tundo activists was revolution for genuine independence and national democracy in the Philippines.
Tony was imprisoned and severely tortured. After his release, he continued to educate the people in Tundo. He later died of an illness.
Others whose names are worthy of being engraved on the Bantayog’s Wall of Remembrance are Roberto “Bodgie” Jimenez, Raul “Bamboy” Basada, his brother Oliver Basada, Luisito “Tito” De La Cruz, Rodolfo “Dolphy” Laurente, Victor “Tiks” Tiquia, and Roberto “Benig” Sunga. All KM members except for Laurente (who was with the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan), they joined the struggle for a genuine, independent and democratic Philippines, even leaving behind their loved ones. When martial law was declared they went underground, integrating with workers, peasants, and the urban poor.
Jimenez and the Basada brothers died young, working with peasants in the countryside. De La Cruz organized the Katipunan ng mga Kabataang Demokratiko in Metro Manila and other parts of the country. He was imprisoned more than once. Years after his release, he died of an illness.
Laurente was imprisoned along with his wife and their daughters, a 2-year-old and a baby. After his release, he worked for a vegetable distributor and captured most of the dealers, displacing a big capitalist competitor. Trouble ensued and he went underground again. He surfaced after Edsa 1986. Tiquia became a migrant worker and died after a lingering illness. Sunga was imprisoned but he escaped and, like Laurente, surfaced after Edsa 1986.
May today’s young activists emulate the Batang Tundo’s love for country, courage, selflessness, humility, respect for the masses and older comrades, and simple lives.
If the Batang Tundo and other unsung heroes do not make it to the Bantayog, I will look for another place and might call it “Dambana ng mga Bayani.” Sympathetic readers are invited to contribute to this idea or to offer a place for the memorial.
Joey C. Papa ([email protected]) is a victim of human rights violation during martial law, and a playwright, journalist and environmental activist.
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